Castlevania review: A bloody good time
Castlevania isn't flawless, but Netflix has managed a better video game adaptation than almost any big budget studio's attempt.
What's there to say about video game adaptations that hasn't been said already. Nearly every year we're given hope that one movie will break the curse, but still, no video game adaptation has managed to achieve greatness. Warcraft had a lot going for it: a huge budget, some serious talent amongst the cast and the director who brought us the phenomenal Moon, yet it still failed to live up to fans' expectations and despite a surprisingly strong turnout in Japan, its paltry box office takings proved it failed to hit the mark with non-gamers alike.
So, when a Castlevania TV series was announced for Netflix, you can hardly blame anyone who was less than enthused for an adaptation of this classic series.
Castlevania writer Warren Ellis and producer Adi Shankar must've offered up a blood sacrifice when they signed up to create the animated Castlevania series because the adaptation of Dracula's Curse should be considered a success.
Starting with some backstory on the series antagonist, Vlad Dracula Tepes, Castlevania sets the stage by showing empathy for the series' big bad. The world of Castlevania (Wallachia) has been run into the ground by the self-righteous, self-serving church. It's made clear from the start that there are few citizens of Wallachia actually worth saving.
The one beacon of hope in Wallachia, and Vlad's one tie to the human race, is extinguished in the episode's opening moments.
This sends Dracula into a genocidal frenzy and he swears to return to Wallachia in one year with an army of hellish ghouls. Despite the heavy-handed warning, the pious church refuses to heed the warning and Vlad returns to make good on his promise, thus catching the attention of our lousy hero Trevor Belmont.
While a lot of the voice cast for auxiliary characters feel a little mismatched in Castlevania, Richard Armitage (The Hobbit) and Grahame McTavish (Preacher), are the perfect fit for their respective roles as Trevor Belmont and Vlad Dracula Tepes.
Armitage has a lot of fun in the role of Trevor, who at this point in his life, is a little out of practice and not shy of a cheeky beer. Armitage turns Trevor from a weary, smartmouthed drunk, to a noble warrior on a dime and McTavish slathers Dracula with his deep, imposing vocals, creating a villain that is in one stroke a terrifying presence and the other a lovable tragic.
Belmont, though disgraced in the land of Wallachia (the Belmont clan have been blamed for the demon scourge thanks to their dabbling in the dark arts), knows the devastated landscape like the back of his hand. He slips through sewer pipes and traipses through caverns with the finesse of someone who's done this before.
These moments are a nice throwback to Castlevania's signature interconnected world design that inspired countless games after it. With that said, Trevor's not without his flaws. His exile from society and subsequent booze problem look to have left him a little dusty in combat and somewhat embittered with his fellow humans. While he doesn't seem like much at first,
Trevor becomes a pretty compelling character by the season's end. Despite his withered skillset, his flagrant disregard for his own life gives him an edge in combat. Only Trevor's honour to his family credo to protect humanity pushes him forward. He seems to care little for the actual people and more for the Belmont family's mission.
Despite the show trying to push home the idea that Trevor is out of practice, he's still pretty handy with a whip and a sword and there are a few climactic battles that serve up a healthy dose of action and a whole lot of blood and guts. Castlevania gets very gory.
No complaints here regarding the bloodshed, it's actually quite refreshing to see a TV show that's a) animated and b) based on a video game go all out with the graphic details. I'm just surprised that some of it was passed. There are certain images and flashes of terror that outmatch anything Game of Thrones has ever shown on TV.
Admittedly, animated gore like this is less affecting than live action bloodshed but there are still moments that will turn your stomach if you don't handle violence and buckets of blood too well.
My only issue with Castlevania so far is that it feels like half a season. At only 94 minutes long (four episodes at 23 - 25 minutes each), Castlevania is just as long as your average movie but split into small digestible morsels.
But it's not the length that makes it feel unfinished. I actually enjoyed being able to chew through an entire season before breakfast. Episode 4 ends with something that feels more like a mid-season resolution.
In fact, Castlevania's pacing is a bit of a mess start to finish but that last episode especially feels like the start of something bigger with little to no resolution of the actual conflict.
Castlevania wants to cover a lot of ground with its characters and it's simply too hard to do in four 25 minute episodes. The entire first episode is dedicated to Vlad Dracula's origin story, which works wonders for that character, but also means we're not introduced to our main hero until episode 2. Acceptable conduct in a full season, but not when you've only got four episodes to play with.
The knock-on effect of this also deprives the rest of the main cast (Alucard the Vampire and Sypha the magician) of screen time. By the end of episode four we've got four main characters, two we're only just getting to know and two we barely care for.
Anime fans might also find Castlevania's derivative art style a little rough around the edges. If you squint, Castlevania looks like an anime but on closer inspection, it's clear Castlevania's animations are lacking.
Interactions between characters can feel a little awkward (an otherwise fun bar brawl springs to mind) and certain stills look like unfinished frames from the cutting room floor. Thankfully, the gory action scenes are a visual treat with nicely choreographed stoushes that draw your attention away from the subpar animation.
I'm not sure exactly why the decision for such a short season was made but it likely has something to do with Netflix testing the waters before committing to a full season.
Though Netflix has been killing it with original content and new releases, the cancellation of the popular Sense8 and Get Down have proven that Netflix isn't scared to let a good thing go in the name of cutting costs. And anyone who is hanging out for the new season of Rick and Morty knows how long the development cycle for an animated TV show can be.
If this was indeed an effort to gauge interest, Netflix obviously saw potential in that first day of release because a second season was announced on the day Season 1 was released.
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If you've finished up Castlevania and need to top up on guts and gore, don't forget Game of Thrones Season 7 begins this week.
There are no known plans for a Castlevania title on Switch, but you will be able to relive Super Castlevania IV when the SNES Mini launches this September.